Kalyn Ponga is reportedly on the verge of signing a lucrative five-year contract extension with Newcastle and skipper Mitchell Pearce believes it is a huge move for the club and the city.
The 22-year-old Ponga is signed with the Knights until the end of 2021 but has previously been linked to a return to rugby union.
As one of the NRL’s biggest stars, he would also command huge interest from rival clubs if he were to go to market.
However, with the Knights set to play their first game of the restarted competition on Sunday, Pearce said he is keen for Ponga’s future to be secured as soon as possible.
“I’ve said it publicly a few times that Kalyn is one of the best players I’ve played with, especially young players,” he said on Wednesday.
“Hopefully that gets sorted soon and no one will be happier than me, that’s for sure.”
Ponga is suspended for Sunday’s clash with Penrith at Campbelltown Stadium.
Local junior Tex Hoy, who lives with Ponga and fellow teammate Connor Watson in Newcastle, will make his NRL debut at fullback.
Hoy burst onto the scene in the NRL Nines, played two trial games in the pre-season and was promoted from a development contract to the full-time squad.
“I think Tex will really back himself, he’s had a really big pre-season and from our point of view, there’s no pressure on Tex,” Pearce said.
“We know he’ll do a good job for us and I’m sure it’ll be the first game of many.”
Hooker Andrew McCullough has arrived at the Knights from Brisbane as a replacement for the injured Jayden Brailey, but was not named to take on the undefeated Panthers.
Watson will start in the No.9 jersey with rookie Chris Randall coming off the bench for his NRL debut.
“He’s probably one of the fittest players at the club,” Pearce said of the 24-year-old Randall.
“He’s a local junior here and he’s fought for everything to get this spot, he’s worked his backside off to get into the full-time squad firstly and then to push himself into a debut.”